HED0673

Written evidence submitted by Aly Fulford

 

[Note: This evidence has been redacted by the Committee. Text in square brackets has been inserted where text has been redacted.]

I would like to respond to this consultation with evidence. I have nothing to offer except my thoughts and our story. I am a home educating mum. I will tell you a little bit about our family at the end. For my husband, myself and our children we have found this way of living to be life giving, healing and freeing. I offer some of my thoughts on the questions you have asked for your consideration.

 

The law, as I understand it, rightly determines that it is the duty of parents to ensure adequate well rounded education for their children. The vast majority of parents choose to enlist the help of the state in this vital task and send their children to their local school. Parents who choose to home educate do so for a variety of reasons. The majority of parents believe their choice is in the best interest of their child. I cannot speak for other parents but that is our story. A small minority of parents choose to exercise their right to home educate where this is not in the best interest of the child. I am thinking about cases where a child may not have got on well at school and the parent may face fines because of repeated absence. Where a child may sadly be at risk in the home and a parent opts to use home education as a way to hide themselves from the system. Such cases are tragically sad. It is tragically sad that children are abused in our country and we must work together to do all we can to stop abuse of any kind. We must protect vulnerable children and ensure all children flourish and reach their full potential.

 

It is assumed that school is the best place for children to flourish and thrive. But that is simply not the case for everyone. The education system in England is overstretched and underfunded.  Good teachers do their best yet often feel overwhelmed by the vast amount they have to deal with. Class sizes are too big to treat every child as an individual. This results in many children being overlooked academically, emotionally and spiritually. This is not the fault of the teacher. This is the fault of the system. The school system isn’t bad as such, although it does in my opinion need reform. Any system which treats individuals as a collective is bound to become a struggle for some. It was Albert Einstein who said ‘everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid.’ Children are a gift to the world and each child has something unique and creative to contribute to a diverse society. School, with its regimented, uniformed approach or indeed any such system is not always the best place to encourage freedom, creativity and critical thinking; and boost the confidence and unique learning styles within every child. It simply does not have the capacity.

Home educating families and local authorities should work hard to develop a relationship of respect. It should not be mandatory for home educating families to register with the local authority. The current rules about de-registration and follow up are adequate. If the local authority had cause for concern and these concerns pertained to safeguarding issues then these must be acted on. It is the duty of us all to keep our children safe. The majority of families will work with the local authority in a positive way. If this has been difficult it has come from a place where the family feel judged or anxious that the local authority is purposely seeking to find fault. As with most things, help, advice and even helpful criticism would be best received from a place of relationship and encouragement. Often local authorities are themselves so stretched that they don’t have the resources to invest in encouraging positive and supportive relationships with home educating families. The result of this is that many home educators feel defensive when called upon. This is unnecessary and could be avoided with a more helpful long term approach.

The local authority could help home educating families in their area by signposting people to local support groups. It could help by inviting home educators to take a seat at the table when other educational matters are being discussed. It could help by offering incentives to local educational establishments (such as museums) to run home education events. It could help financially, perhaps a means tested annual grant for the purpose of books and other resources. This may be especially helpful to those who may have been entitled to free school meals/uniform grants had they remained in the school system.

Visits from the local authority to the home of a home educating family should be requested but not demanded. For many reasons families may not be comfortable with people in their home space. A number of alternative, neutral venues are available (coffee shops etc.) When a visit takes place the focus should be on the overall wellbeing of the child. Parents choose to home educate for a number of reasons. Many follow the national curriculum, or a version of it, at home. Others choose completely different approaches. To judge a family on their educational approach against a national curriculum is foolish as is judging one family against another. You may have a network of twenty home education families each choosing a different educational approach to suit their needs and philosophy. In the same way health workers happily acknowledge all babies develop at their own pace, yet there are certain developmental markers along the way, so to with education. Some children will excel academically others will develop more practical and vocational skills. Each child’s learning journey is unique to them. This is another reason relationship between the local authority and the home education family is important. Inspection is unhelpful in most cases. Growing and learning together. Sharing life and understanding values is perhaps more helpful language. The tension will always be resisting an attempt to make a system of something that was never intended to be systemised.

What the majority of parents and children who home educate value is freedom. I am thankful that I live in a country that respects freedom of choice and makes space for the views of others. Home education may be an unconventional and tiny piece in the tapestry of education in the U.K. Yet it is because of this it ought to be respected, protected, supported and encouraged to grow. We have a rich and proud heritage of education in this country of which home education plays a minority but crucial part.

The Coronavirus situation has impacted our country on a colossal scale. We will be reaping its effect for many years to come in all areas of life. The effect on our mental health and wellbeing is one important area. When the country went into lockdown in March the whole nation home-schooled. Home schooling is not the same as home education and I believe it is important to note the difference. The whole nation became teachers and tried to do school at home. Home education is a philosophy and rule of life which is more than academic learning. Those who home educate by choice, not those who were forced to because of the pandemic, have, in my experience, better mental health, more confidence, better life skills, are far more articulate, foster better and more meaningful relationships with appropriate people of all ages (not just their peer group), have a strong sense of environmental responsibility and little care for consumerism or the latest trends. Children who are home educated often choose for themselves what they like or dislike with no pressure to conform to the expectations of others. This freedom is evidenced in better mental health and social wellbeing. I was interested to read a news report during the spring/summer lockdown which highlighted a medical study (I think it was conducted in Bristol). Anyway, the study expected teenagers who already experienced high levels of anxiety, to be more anxious as a result of lockdown. The study showed that in fact the opposite was true. Anxiety levels reduced. The fact is, that for all the good schools do for the benefit of our young people and society as a whole – They are not perfect places and in some cases, can be a significant contributing factor in poor mental health.

 

I am mum to five children. I have a son, 21, now in second year at university. He is studying filmmaking. He was never home educated. Daughter 19, working in a care home, and if the pandemic has taught us anything it is which roles are crucial to our society. She is planning on going to university next September to train to be a primary school teacher. She did her A- levels in college, before that she was home educated. Son, 17. He did his GCSE’s and A Level’s in school, he is in year 13 now. Prior to that he was home educated. He hopes to join the police force. My daughter 15, she is in school now studying for her GCSE’s next summer. She was previously home educated. After that she plans to stay at school for sixth form before going on to university to study law. My [youngest child], is currently home educated, she loves nature and art, she enjoys learning about history. Over the past several weeks we have learnt about the impact of Mary Seacole, Constantine, Guy Fawkes, Caligula, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks among others. She has climbed trees, built dens, and sat around a campfire in her weekly home education group [redacted]. She is learning about equestrian care and stable management and also learning to ride. She studies French, Piano, Geography, Science, English language, Philosophy, Ethics and Religion. As a family our practicing faith is Christian but we feel it is important to learn about other faiths too. She has friends of other faiths and none (as do we all) and is comfortable and confident with them. She loves music, photography, drama. We’ve read Dickens, Shakespeare, Dahl and more since September. She has recently realised that birds are beautiful and wants to learn more about them. She doesn’t realise this is called ‘nature study’ she just likes finding out about birds, drawing them and listening to their song. She loves ballet and tap and looks forward to her weekly classes. Home education is a philosophy more than a curriculum but I hope you can see that our curriculum is varied and will grow as she does. She is kind and thoughtful, she is a deeply reflective person and shows critical thinking and reasoning skills. She can read fluently. She used to find reading a struggle but is persevering and is growing in confidence and is beginning to develop a love of books – she reads because she wants to. She doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up at the moment, but [redacted], there is no rush. She is busy loving life, growing and thriving and being free to be a child without pressure.

I appreciate that I am biased, but in my opinion, which is shared with my husband.  We feel that our children represent different stages of childhood through to young adults. They are kind, generous, honest, hardworking and motivated people who have benefited from a formal/less formal approach to education. I hope our story shows how one size does not fit all. I hope it shows also that home educated families aren’t ‘anti-school’ or ‘anti-establishment’. Our children have are growing/have grown to contribute positively to society. We simply believe in the freedom of choice.

 

In summery I  recognise all children are a gift. All grow and develop differently. All have great capacity and potential to flourish and thrive. While school does its best for all children, sometimes it just does not work for all. It is because of this I support the right of parents to choose education other than school in the best interest of the child. I feel the current regulations around home education are sufficient though the possibility of more help and support through the local authorities where appropriate would be welcome.

 

January 2021

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